Fred Grimm

Sharks and Jets, and maybe Pitbull, gonna meet for a rumble on those ‘Sexy Beaches’

Oh, those damned “Sexy Beaches.” Too sexy, as it turns out.

Too provocative, anyway, for the man from Land O’Lakes. Florida’s newest, meanest political power monger, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is going after the quasi-public Visit Florida with the kind of manic fervor Donald Trump has unleashed against the likes of CNN and Nordstrom. Corcoran wants to kill the tourism marketing agency that funded Pitbull’s now-infamous video (and maybe emasculate Gov. Rick Scott while he’s at it).

Of course, Corcoran, who would like Scott’s job, employs a Koch-Brothers-approved ideological argument in his campaign to defund Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, the outfit that lavishes corporations with come-to-Florida (or stay-in-Florida) incentive packages.

But it’s that million-dollar Pitbull video that has his posse of right-wing legislators so hot and bothered. The outlandish notion that taxpayers funded this Miami rapper’s rhythmic stroll down a Florida beach with a half-dozen girls in clingy bathing attire. And then Pitbull joins them in a hotel bar, all the while singing, “Sexy Beaches! Hotels!” (Hey, I don’t write the lyrics. I just hum along.)

Visit Florida, which receives about $78 million a year from the state (along with $140 million from the private tourism industry), didn’t help itself by adding a confidentiality clause in the 2015 contract with its “celebrity tourism ambassador” that kept the financial details secret. Secret, that is, until Corcoran raised a ruckus (and filed suit) last year.

Visit Florida also brokered a $2.8 million deal with a Le Mans-style endurance sports car racing team. Plus a $1.2 million deal to festoon the Visit Florida logo on the stadium and game jerseys of the Fulham, a team in the second-tier league of British soccer. And there was also a multi-million dollar deal involving celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

But it was the Pitbull “Sexy Beaches” deal that received special attention in a slick “foolish spending” video the House of Representatives leadership compiled attacking Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The underlying message was that God-fearing folk in northern Florida were being tainted by association with this Miami urban, Latin, hip-hop sexy stuff. After all, not one of the girls in the video was a blonde.

As of Thursday, the Florida House video, which was also paid for with taxpayers dollars, had received 607 views on YouTube. Meanwhile, “Sexy Beaches” has racked up 12,625,693 hits. Which, as the sophisticates say in the marketing world, ain’t nothing.

The Visit Florida board (which ought to separate itself from the much-harder-to-justify Enterprise Florida) fired its CEO last month, hoping to appease government critics (never mind that Florida had four straight years of record tourism). That made Rick Scott happy, but by then, the governor and Corcoran were engulfed in a nasty blood feud. Scott has been going around the state criticizing legislators who’ve sided with Corcoran. The speaker’s boys have been sniping back at the governor.

We’re witnessing a right-wing internecine squabble, with the Koch-brothers tiny-government ideologues siding with Corcoran, the pro-business, chamber of commerce gang going with Scott. It’s as if the Republicans have split off into the Brooks Brothers’ versions of the Sharks and Jets. Democrats (united by their irrelevance) are watching from the sidelines, eating popcorn.

Just Thursday, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau sent out an urgent email summoning members to a public hearing in Tallahassee on Tuesday, when the House Appropriations Committee “will be considering the bill that eliminates Visit Florida (HB 7005).”

The email warned, “If tourism marketing at the state and local level is important to you, it is critical that you take action right away.”

Each member was asked to bring “10-25 people” to Tallahassee at least an hour before the 1 p.m. meeting. “Proponents of the bill will attempt to fill the room to shut you out, it’s important to arrive early.”

Champions of the beleaguered Visit Florida will receive a “Tourism Works for Florida” sticker or buttons. That way, in case a ruckus breaks out between the Scotts and Corcorans, they’ll know who to whack.

I’m just hoping our celebrity tourism ambassador and his very alluring ambassadorettes will show up at the Capitol on Tuesday and lead Visit Florida supporters in a few stanzas from our new state song. Just be careful enunciating Sexy Beaches, especially in mixed (Sharks and Jets) company.

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